Outlawed – Book Review

“Knowledge can be very valuable,” she said, “but only if people want it. If they don’t, it can be worse than useless.”

Outlawed by Anna North is the January pick from Reese’s book club. Outlawed is a story about a woman living in the old west in the late 1800’s. However, this is not fiction based on true historical events. It is alternative history. You know…like Bridgerton…but also nothing like Bridgerton.

Read on to find out more!

Check out our other reviews of Reeses Book Club picks. Last months pick was The Chicken SIsters.

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Cover of the book Outlawed by Anna North. Outlawed book review

Outlawed – Book Review

  • Author: Anna North
  • Published: January 5, 2021
  • Type: Fiction
  • Genre: Western, Women’s Literature, Alternate History
  • I read Outlawed on my Kindle and purchased it from Amazon

My Synopsis of Outlawed

As I mentioned this not a historical novel. This is alternate history which is a genre of fiction in which one or more historical events occur differently than they actually did in real life. Alternate history aka alternative history aka althist often asks the question “what if?” This genre tends to be both conjectural AND based in fact.

Lately, I have been finding this genre fascinating.

In Outlawed the year is 1894 and the main protagonist, Ada, is a 17 year old married woman. She likes her husband well enough and loves her mother and sisters. Ada’s mother is the town’s healer and midwife who has imparted a great deal of knowledge to Ada about childbirth and medications and helping people with injury and illness.

They live in what was once the United States before a terrible flu killed 90% of the population. The Civil War never happened in this history. Slavery ended because no one was around to enforce it, and because everyone was needed to work together to rebuild. However, this does NOT mean that racism is no longer a part of this new culture.

The survivors have developed a religion in which they worship the baby Jesus and believe that a woman’s ability to have children is all-important. The worst thing you can be in this new society is a barren woman. A woman who cannot bear children is typically put away by her husband and in many cases declared to be a witch and blamed for the illnesses of those around her.

These “witches” might be banished, put into stocks, imprisoned, sent to nunneries, or even killed.

Ada’s change from a normal young married woman to outlaw began when she was put away by her husband for not being able to have children and then accused by the townspeople of being a witch. Her life is threatened and she leaves her home to first become part of a convent and eventually to join the Hole in the Wall Gang.

This is not the Hole in the Wall Gang that you might have heard about in history. This outlaw gang of thieves is made up of women who have been forced to escape their normal lives due to barrenness, their sexual proclivities, their race, or because they were accused of being a witch. They have run from the threat of hanging or the stocks or prison. They are led by a charismatic, androgynous person called The Kid. Ada is accepted into the gang due to her medical knowledge and called Doc by the other members.

This is Ada’s introduction to life as an outlaw, but her true life’s goal is to find out why certain women are infertile and to dispel the religious, misogynistic, and racist quackery that is so prevalent in her world.

Outlawed Book Review

This was a book that left me simultaneously wanting both less and more.

Outlawed has one of the best opening lines that I’ve read recently. “In the year of our Lord 1894, I became an outlaw.” From that one sentence I felt that I would consistently be interested in this book and I was. I found it to be thought provoking and compelling.

My biggest complaint is that the author simply tries to cover too much ground in one novel. In my opinion there were too many themes and too many characters.

I’ll give you an example: I try to mention when the books that I review address topics that might be problematic for some and this book has a variety of possible triggers. There is murder, abuse, genital mutilation, homosexuality, racism, misogyny, miscarriage, mental illness…and maybe some more that I can’t remember.

Y’all, that’s a lot of heavy topics that this author attempts to address in one book.

I do want to say that the list makes this novel sound way more difficult than it actually was. Nothing was too terribly graphic. You know yourself and what topics you can handle, but, for me, the content of this book was mature but not explicit.

However, it was just…a lot. I didn’t feel like any one topic was ever fully delved into. It kept bringing up one more theme after another and they felt very glossed over. So, Ada has a realization that the town she grew up in was racist…then…nothing.

Since Ada dreams of helping other women perhaps the reader might have been better served if the author had written about this topic in a deeper way and not tried to address every single problem in this society.

In addition there are bunches of characters and you get a bit of a back story for almost every one. Many of these stories could be made into a really interesting book about just about that particular character. Although I loved learning about the various women who peopled this book I never felt like it was quite enough. By giving me these little tidbits the author left me always wanting to know more, but, not in a good way. It wasn’t satisfying.

Perhaps this was a situation in which it would have been better to actually know less. There were so many themes addressed only superficially. So many characters were introduced, characters that you could tell had potential to be fascinating, but you barely got to know them until it was on to the next and you were struggling to tell them apart.

Although my attention was a bit scattered due to all the characters and themes, I have to admit that I was never bored and couldn’t put the book down. There is always something to be said for that!

But then there were the parts of the book where I wanted more.

First of all, more Ada. I couldn’t even love the main protagonist. She had the makings of a strong female character, but she was a bit too passive of a heroine. In addition, you could only partially see how she was growing and learning. It was like I was always looking at her through a fog.

My least favorite part of Outlawed was the ending which felt both rushed and incomplete. This is a book that started out much stronger than it finished. As I mentioned I had high hopes in the beginning. Somewhere around the middle of the book I found myself becoming more and more disappointed and then…it ended. Hopes dashed.

I felt like the book ended just as Ada’s life was beginning, just as we were going to be able to really get to know her and see her grow, just as we were about to see the strong woman you felt that she had inside of her. I also wanted to know what happened to the peripheral characters and if they were able to change society. I wanted more.

Outlawed left me feeling as if the author had taken the loose threads of all the various topics that she wanted to address and all the various stories that she wanted to tell and left them scattered about rather than weaving them together into something whole.

Although Outlawed kept me reading I can’t say that it was a great book or that I loved it.

It was both too much and too little all at once.

View of the western United States. The hole in the wall gang from the book Outlawed hid in an area like this. Read this book review of Outlawed.

I hope you enjoyed this book review of Outlawed. I’m always up for a good book discussion so feel free to let me know your opinion in the comments!

Thanks so much for stopping by.